Did Mike Doss start a trend when he returned for his senior season at Ohio State?
It's looking more and more like he did.
After several years of seeing early-entries leave town, Buckeye fans had almost accepted it as the norm. If a player has a chance to leave early for the NFL, he's gone. End of story. Even if he's just a third-round pick like Lorenzo Styles, or Derek Ross, he's gone.
But then Doss shifted the tide. All of a sudden, it wasn't such a foreign idea for a star Buckeye player to stick around for their final season.
Smith - the highest-rated of the three prospects - was the only one who seriously considered the move. He said his decision came down to several factors.
"It was a little bit of everything," Smith said. "I wanted to come back and graduate, that's what my grandmother stressed all her life (Smith's mother is deceased). She wanted me and my sister to graduate from college, so that was one of the main points. The other factors were how high would I be taken (in the NFL draft) and how much I wanted to come back and go for another national championship. I was thinking about the NFL - whether or not it was a good time to leave. We just won the title, we ended up on top and that would have been a good way to go out."
But Smith found out that he was not guaranteed to be a first-round pick.
"At first, I thought I'd go pretty high," he said. "There was a lot of information to consider and a lot of stress. I was waiting for my grade to come back, the junior committee grade. There's a bunch of GMs from the NFL, I think there's 12 of them, and they just sit down and watch film on all the juniors and grade them. I got the report back on a Monday afternoon, right after the (Fiesta Bowl) and I wasn't really happy with the grade. It said I was a late-first/early-second and I thought I'd be higher than that. The guy explained to me that it didn't factor in your workouts or nothing, so you could either improve, stay the same, or drop. I said all along that I wanted to come back unless I was going to be a high first-rounder and that's what I did."
Would Smith's decision have been any different if the Bucks didn't have so many starters returning in 2003?
"Probably would have been a little different, I might have been more apt to leave," Smith said. "Knowing that the whole offense is coming back is big. I also have Darrion (Scott) coming back, Tim (Anderson) is back, you know, the defensive line is going to be solid because we have some backup guys that could start as well. So, I knew coming back that we'd have another opportunity to win the national championship and we're going to have a real strong team. That was definitely a factor."
Smith knows that OSU will be a marked team this coming year.
"I think that going into the 2003 season, we're going to have a big "X" on our chest," Smith said. "Everybody is going to be looking to upset us because we are the defending national champs. I think that is going to be motivation in itself because everybody is going to be trying to take our crown from us, so I just think our guys are going to thrive off that.
"Everybody on the outside wants to see Ohio State lose now. Before, everybody thought Ohio State wouldn't win, that we weren't good enough to win. Now, a lot of people will probably think we are going to win, but they want to see us lose."
Is the 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end concerned that there might be a letdown next year within the program? It could be hard to keep the same intensity level after winning the title.
"No, I think everybody is going to pick up because we still have to prove next year that we're just as good as we were this year," Smith said. "I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on us to repeat the performance of last year, so I think everybody is going to be more focused and not wanting to be that team that lost that broke the winning streak."
As for Doss, he was happy to hear that Smith, Jenkins and Scott decided to return, and not just because it might help his draft status.
"I think they saw how it worked out for me and the opportunity they have of winning another one," Doss said. "Not many college football players get the chance to win one, let alone two."
Doss is currently preparing for Ohio State's pro day in March. He will not run or lift at the NFL combine in February.
"It's kind of stressing," Doss said. "You're going to have 400 scouts watching your every move, but I look at it like a challenge and just try and have fun. I think all season I proved what I can do and winning the national championship was just icing on the cake."
Doss is working out with former OSU strength coach Dave Kennedy at the University of Pittsburgh. He likes the Buckeyes' current strength coach Al Johnson, but you can't ignore Kennedy's record.
"He has a streak going of first-round draft picks," Doss said. "That (combine workout preparation) is his specialty. I'm a business-man now. I'm trying to work hard and take care of my future. Hopefully I'll be anywhere from 10-20 (in the first round of the draft)."
Doss spoke a little bit about next year and what the fans can expect from the safety position.
"Will Allen will be a major factor next year. It was hard for him to definitely get playing time with Donnie (Nickey) and myself back there, but he rotated in there at nickel back and made some big plays. Nate Salley can play safety or corner, Tyler Everett will be in the mix and Thomas Matthews too," Doss said.
Overall, No. 2 thinks the Bucks will have a chance at greatness in '03.
"They have a great offense coming back next year, only losing one player," Doss said. "Some of those young guys need to come in and make plays on defense. I think A.J. Hawk will step up, Dustin Fox is a leader, Chris Gamble is a leader now on defense. We definitely have some holes to fill, but with that offense and D-Line, they are going to make a run at another one. Mark Dantonio had our defense ready all year, but I think that offense is going to average 42 points a game."